CAIRO, Egypt – The first things to be dropped onto Afghanistan from U.S. military planes will be relief supplies, not bombs.
The airdrops will be part of a broader effort by Washington to give emergency aid to the hungry and impoverished Afghan population, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said en route to Cairo Thursday. Destitute civilians by the thousands are fleeing amid fears of U.S. military attack against the ruling Taliban regime.
Rumsfeld said there is no doubt the U.S. military will be involved in delivering the aid. The United States has positioned more than 300 aircraft in the region around Afghanistan, some of which could be used for airdrops.
"The plan for that is being worked out in Washington as we're here," Rumsfeld said.
Rumseld was speaking on his Air Force jet, which was crossing the Arabian Peninsula on the third leg of a five-nation tour of the Middle East and Central Asia.
He began the day in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he had held talks with King Fahd Wednesday night. He flew to Muscat, Oman, for a meeting with Sultan Qaboos in an open tent in the desert, then was traveling to Cairo to see Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
At each stop Rumsfeld emphasized that President Bush's campaign against terrorism is not aimed at Muslims, an idea he said is advanced by terrorists and their sympathizers.
The humanitarian program might help allay those fears, particularly if it includes Air Force planes delivering food to the impoverished and destitute.
But Rumsfeld said the Pentagon would have to be careful to design an airdrop that could succeed.
"You wouldn't want the rations to fall into the wrong hands,'' he said.
A misstep could mean that the supplies would go to the Al Qaeda terrorist network headed by suspected terrorist Usama bin Laden, or to the Taliban regime that harbors them.
In advance of Rumsfeld's arrival in Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Thursday that his country is committed to fighting terrorism but will not send troops abroad for any military action.
"We do not participate with troops anywhere because the Egyptian army is there to defend Egyptian lands," Mubarak said on national television.
A decade ago, Mubarak helped the United States muster Arab support for the international coalition that ousted Iraq from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War. Egypt contributed 36,000 troops to the force, and some Egyptian fighters took part in the ground offensive against Iraq.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.